As designers, we have to meet people where they’re at — which means we can’t design for how we wish people were, but how they are. Disruption isn’t about blowing people’s minds with something they never considered; it’s designing a better way of completing a vital task. Sometimes innovation isn’t sexy. Very often innovation is simple and not all that obvious.
In this age of cyber terrorism, security risk, privacy concerns and general misuse of data — we must design in a way that is fully aware. Facebook’s obsession with being the biggest platform on the planet cannot outweigh its responsibility to protect people. When we fail to design in a way that is appropriate we risk so much. Our ambition cannot overshadow the needs of the users (both internal and external).
A few years ago, I started working at a company that wanted to shift their business from a service company to a product company. They believed their service would eventually run it’s course and it was only a matter of time before the service was no longer valuable to their customers.
I joined the company knowing my role as a UX Designer would be mostly in the form of change management. When a company wants to shift from doing one thing to doing something entirely different they need a particular type of support. Unfortunately, no one seemed aware that this shift was a culture shift. They believed that they could become a product-based business just by hiring the right people.
What I saw was a lack of self awareness amongst the senior team. They didn’t really understand how this pivot would impact them. They didn’t have any plan or strategy on how to use their existing workforce and services as a baseline for their new strategy. They thought they could reinvent themselves overnight.
Going from a service-based business to a product-based business is like undergoing surgery. You wouldn’t just walk into the surgery theater and tell them to do whatever. You would likely hold multiple consultations with your doctor, maybe even meet with a few other doctors to see if there are any alternative opinions to consider, and then you’d ideally investigate the best surgeon for your situation. Once you’ve had surgery you’ll need support recovering — both physically and mentally.
The company was entirely unaware of the change they were considering. Needless to say I was worried and nervous. I went into this new role with my eyes wide open and prepared for the fact that I might not have the right change management skills to provide the support the company needed. As a team of one my abilities were limited.
First week into the job, my manager told me that I was to go out into the field and discover what people needed. There was no key area of focus. I was to go out as a research team of one and figure out the future of the company. I pushed back. I told her that research is a team sport not a solo activity. I tried to explain that research cannot be successful if it’s done in a vacuum. And most importantly, when senior management doesn’t understand or value design research there is a big risk in going out into the field and translating the opportunities to key stakeholders.
Instead, I spent several weeks pouring over what the company understood about itself. I took time to meet with the senior team and met with individuals from each business unit. I collected these interviews as pieces of data and cross referenced it with other internal insights generated from past marketing research; as well as, secondary research.
After about a month of internal discovery I presented an alternative strategy to my manager. This new plan was to use the existing skills, talent and experience towards the development of a product that would enable the company to connect with new types of customers in a way that was mutually valuable.
My manager hated it. She was convinced that it was too “safe” and she wanted to create a product that was “disruptive” and “innovative” — something no one had ever thought of before. She wanted something that would get the company a lot of press and make waves in the industry.
But I held to my convictions because I knew the company wasn’t ready for the kind of change that sort of product would bring and we ended up needing to part ways.
I share this story because I was right. My manager ended up leaving the company about a year later. The company wasn’t ready for the kind of change that would require them to transform overnight. The company needed incremental change that would balance the needs of the business with those of their customers.
We all want to experience big exciting things in our lives and in our careers. Sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into the allure of notoriety and fame. We can become laser focused on what we perceive as success; turning a blind eye to all the other ways we are currently successful and can be more successful. There isn’t a single definition of success. Each of us has our own unique talents; which means success will be defined differently for each of us. This applies to ourselves as well as our work.